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289 pages, Paperback
First published June 24, 2014
He's gone to a better place, her mother shouted at her while vacuuming the lounge room. A better place? What? Yes, heaven, love, haven't you heard of it? Don't they teach you anything in that bloody school? Lift your legs! It's doggy heaven, where there's eternal dog biscuits and they can poop wherever they please. Okay, legs down. I said, legs down! And they poop, I don't know, dog biscuits, so all they do is poop and eat dog biscuits and run around and eat the other dogs' poop. Which are actually dog biscuits. Millie took a moment. Why would they waste time here then? What? Well, they, um, have to earn it. They have to stay here until they get voted over to a better place. Like doggy Survivor.Doggy Survivor! Voted over! I was in hysterics!
You see, Squirt, there's heaven, and there's hell. Hell is where they send all the bad people, like criminals and con artists and parking inspectors. And heaven is where they send all the good people, like you and me and that nice blonde from Master-Chef. What happens where you get there? In heaven, you hang out with God and Jimi Hendrix, and you get to eat doughnuts whenever you want. In hell, you have to, uh...do the Macarena. Forever. To that "Grease Megamix." Where do you go if you're good and bad? What? I don't know. IKEA?Are you getting how special this book is?, honestly it's such a mix of feeling good all over and then feeling intensely sad for wee Millie and her situation in life. Such an old soul in a little body. Bless her cotton socks.
Ron's saddening penis was Agatha's first clue that her husband was aging. The second came when she saw the hair in his ears, waving in the wind like the hands of drowning men.Oh! The imagery! Just brilliantly done.
And Millie wants to curl up in her arms and stay there and never leave, but she doesn't do that because the lady isn't her mum and you can't really do that to mums who aren't yours. But you should be able to hug all the mums who aren't yours, because some people don't have mums and what are they supposed to do with all the hugs they have?The book is unique and special, very character driven, written with so much heart and soul. The author wrote the book based on very personal loss and circumstances. I think that comes across in it, it's so raw emotionally in places, I had a lump in my throat a few times.
“She soon noticed that everything was dying around her. Bugs and oranges and Christmas trees and houses and letterboxes and train rides and textas and candles and old people and young people and people in between. She wasn’t to know that after she recorded twenty-seven assorted creatures in her Book of Dead Things – Spider, The Bird, Grandma, next door’s cat Gertrude, among others – her dad would be a Dead Thing, too. That she’d write it next to the number twenty-eight in letters so big they took up two pages: MY DAD.”
“It’s important to have your mum. Mums bring you jackets and turn on your electric blanket before you get into bed and always know what you want better than you do. And sometimes they let you sit on their lap and play with the rings on their fingers while ‘Deal or No Deal’ is on.”
“But you should be able to hug all the mums who aren’t yours, because some people don’t have mums and what are they supposed to do with all the hugs they have?”
There are books at school with pictures of mums with see-through stomachs, and she has always wanted to lift up the shirt of a pregnant lady, just to see if it really is true that your stomach goes see-through when you are pregnant. This makes sense, she thinks, to give the baby a chance to get used to the world before it is in it, like a glass-bottomed boat; otherwise, what a shock! How scary the world would be if you didn’t know it was coming.
Millie has also seen the books with the cartoon people who love each other so much that the man gives the lady a fish and the fish gets inside the lady and lays eggs, and those eggs turn into a human baby. She knows the baby comes out from the place you pee, but she has not seen pictures of this.
After Millie goes swimming in the ocean, she always watches her pee carefully for babies. Just. In. Case.
Karl wanted to feel again. He wanted to walk onto a crowded bus and make eye contact with a woman with brown hair, blonde hair, blue hair – just hair would be enough – and feel that flip in his stomach, that nice hurt. He wanted to write love letters to women, tons of them. He wanted to see some lesbians. He wanted to swear loudly. In public. He wanted an unattainable woman to break his heart. He wanted a foreigner to touch him on the arm. Man or woman, it didn’t matter. He wanted biceps. He wanted to give someone something big. Not meaningful, just huge.
She remembered learning that all men had these monstrosities dangling between their legs. She couldn’t look at a man for a number of months afterwards. Just the knowledge that there were so many hidden penises around unnerved her. She didn’t know how other women could live in a world like this. She felt surrounded, trapped.
Men walked past her in the street and said hello with such smugness, and all Agatha could do was look at the ground and think, He has a penis he has a penis he has a penis. Later, though, as she watched her husband’s penis sadden and age, as all creatures do eventually, she was able to look men in the eye as they walked past her in the street. Hello, she would answer back, her eyes clear, her lips calm.
But she would think, I pity you and your dying penis.
Millie’s mum threatened her with that once, Millie remembers, when she was tapping her fingers on her dinner plate during Dancing With The Stars. I’ll rip those things right off, her mum said, without turning around to face her. Don’t try me. And Millie didn’t try her – she hadn’t meant to try her – and sat on her fingers so they wouldn’t try anyone without her knowing.
Millie knew the way home but believed her mum was making sure Millie knew how to Do What She Was Told, that she knew how to be Good.
So, after a talk with the mannequin at dinner, Millie decided to make things easier for her mum to find her. Using paints from the hardware section, she painted IN HERE MUM as tall as she could on the glass of the automatic doors. Backwards, of course, so her mum could read it from the outside. She arranged the Connect Four pieces so they formed a right-turning arrow and placed the stand near the entrance.
All the mannequins lining the aisles had their arms positioned so they were pointing in the direction Millie’s mum should follow. Some of them held signs. Hi Mum! one said. Keep going! said another. Stop here for a snack! said the next mannequin, and Millie placed one of her Roll-Ups in its upturned hand. The Guess Who? people were arranged in an arrow, the houses from Monopoly indicated a left turn, the Twister spinner gestured forwards.
The nine mannequins closest to the undies each held a letter to spell, IN HERE MUM. The mannequin with the Hawaiian shirt held the final M. She hooked some bras together and strung them from the mannequin’s hand across the aisle, tying them to the top of the Ginormous Women’s Underwear rack like a finishing line. Millie decorated the trail with Christmas lights she found in a bargain bin, and then – letting her red boots poke out just a little bit – lay under the giant undies to wait.
Millie wakes in the middle of the night. She pulls a piece of paper out of her backpack, walks out of the bedroom and down the hallway, opens the front door, and sticks it to the door with Blu-Tack. In Here Mum.
Millie looks down at her dad’s stubby holder on her forearm. She imagines herself with a cape, flying down the aisles of the train, hovering over everyone, and saving them. Flying right out of this train and straight to Melbourne. Her mum would have to forgive her because she will have been so Good. She locks eyes with the boy over the top of the comic. He seems to be egging her on.
So Millie sneaks into the first-class carriage –– and steals a white tablecloth. From her backpack, she pulls out her Funeral Pencil Case, writes CF on the tablecloth in thick black texta, and ties it around her neck. She takes off her gumboots and writes C on the right one and F on the left one. She writes IN HERE MUM on one forearm and SORRY MUM on the other.
This is the place, Millie says, and disappears inside, though not before writing IN HERE MUM in the dirt with her fingers.